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Pentecost 5, June 27, 2010

Pentecost 5 Proper 8C RCL June 27, 2010

2 Kings 2:1-2;6-14
Psalm 77:1-2;11-20
Galatians 5:1; 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” What a stirring clarion call Paul issues to us today.

What does Paul mean by freedom? He does not mean that we can do anything we please. The word for that is license. Freedom vs. license is a helpful polarity when we are trying to define what Paul is saying about the spiritual journey. License means I can do whatever I want to; I don’t have to consider what God would want me to do, and I don’t have to consider the needs or feelings of anyone else.

Freedom is far different in Paul’s terms, and in the terms necessary for us to live a God-centered life. We are no longer bound by the Law, but now we are called to be in a living, growing relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. God is here, as close as our breath, and God is here to help. But God has also granted us the gift of free will. So God is not going to force us to do anything.

God loves each of us infinitely, more than we can ever imagine. But God is not going to force us to return that love. God wants us to choose to return that love and to share that love with each other and with those beyond, in fact, with everyone we meet and with everyone on this planet.

True freedom means being in relationship with God, seeking God’s will in everything we do. So there is a constant dialogue going on. The theologian Kenneth Kirk called this the “habit of recollection.” We are called to, as Kirk put it, “refer all questions to God.” It may sound ponderous, but somehow it isn’t. After a while, we get used to asking God, “Well, Lord, what do you want me to do about this?” and wait for that still small voice to guide us. If all of us are doing this, seeking and doing God’s will with God’s grace, we are going to be sharing God’s love with each other. If everyone on the planet is doing this, whether they be Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics or atheists, no matter what organized religion they do or don’t belong to, the shalom of God will be growing by leaps and bounds. For our brothers and sisters of other faiths and spiritual approaches, God and God’s shalom can be translated into other terms, such as the way of compassion toward others and toward our planet.

Paul talks about the difference between the flesh and the spirit. The flesh is not just our physical nature, the fact that we need to eat and drink, and that we need sleep, those are not negative things. The flesh, in Paul’s sense, is not limited to or even mainly focused on sexuality, though many have thought that was the case. The flesh, in Paul’s terms, can best be boiled down to our focus on autonomy and our selfishness. That can lead into all kinds of problems which may involve our physical nature and/or our sexuality, but those are not the focus.

I think of the song of several years ago, “I Did It My Way.” How about doing it God’s way? A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a book called The Shack. Reid Farrell commented on it in the Holy Trinity Newsletter, and the folks there eventually did their Lenten study on that book. Folks at St. James, Essex Junction, have also had a discussion group on it.

This book is about many things on many levels, and I wouldn’t even attempt to summarize it, but it impressed me very deeply when I first read it, and I have recently read it again. It gives a refreshing view of God which involves expressing the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. If I were going to try to summarize it without giving the story away, I might say that it’s about a man who undergoes a horrible tragedy, the worst of the worst, and sinks into the depths of despair and then has an opportunity to get to know God and to journey with God in a powerful way which starts this man on his own journey of transformation and healing.

Part of his journey is realizing that we can’t know the mind and heart of God. We’re just too small and limited. But when we begin to realize how much God loves us, even amidst all the brokenness in the creation, which is not what God wants for the creation, but, since God has given us free will, God can’t step in and clear up our messes—when we realize the depth of God’s love for us, and when we begin to let God into our lives, God lives in us and through us, and we begin to see things very differently and we begin to think and act very differently.

God wants to create communities of people who are living lives steeped in God’s love. God wants a planet full of people who are doing this, and, when that happens, God’s shalom will be here.

Paul calls us to “live in the Spirit.” Scholars tell us the literal translation of that would be to “walk in the Spirit.” Every move, every action, thought, word is guided by the love and grace of God. Communities that live that way show the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Communities who walk in the Spirit are like magnets. They are places of safety and nurture, and they are also communities of challenge and service and loving ministry to others and communities which live into and out of God’s mercy and justice.

We are called to ask God for help, to let God help us, to let go of our focus on autonomy and to actually allow God to live in and through us. We are called to do this as individuals and as a community, and then we are called to work with other communities who are doing the same thing.

Loving God, give us the grace to check in with you as constantly as possible, Help us to seek and do your will. Amen.

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